A continual debate rages that is more charged than politics, more heartfelt than religious conviction and more hotly contested than Roe vs. Wade. The unanswered question echoes; “What is Indie game development?” This argument endures throughout the year, but it’s never heard louder than right after the announcement of finalists or winners of an Indie game development contest. Cries of “Cheater, Cheater, you’re not I N D I E” ring throughout the air (well, okay, the internet air).
My desire to unite the world and promote love and happiness has driven my quest for an answer. Not just an answer to satisfy myself but one that is so clear and so undeniable that everyone must agree, “That’s Indie.” I believe that, in a moment of pure brilliance, I have uncovered the truth.
Indie is exactly what you are. Anyone who you think has an advantage over you isn’t Indie.
I was fortunate enough to spend a couple of years living in Italy. There I learned something about human nature. Many of the northern Italians believe that their culture and traditions are different from the southern Italians. They also believe that they are slightly superior to their southern neighbors. The northern Italians are quick to point out the higher crime rate in southern Italy and the fact the Italian Mob also began there. I believe this type of division is common in many countries, cities and even small towns. The fact that this division exists isn’t interesting in itself. The interesting observation is the geographical location where everyone places this division between the north and the south. I lived in many different cities during my stay in Italy and I noticed that everyone placed the division just a little south of where they lived. The further north a person lived the higher he or she felt that dividing line should be. In fact, in some very northern cities many of the Italians consider themselves to be Swiss. They were just stuck in Italy because of some arbitrary division of countries and would quickly point out that their ancestors, living in that very city many generations ago, hadn’t always been Italian. Despite the fact everyone in these towns can speak perfect Italian, many would choose to not speak Italian and often pretend they didn’t know how.
This same type of thinking is often apparent when developers are finding reasons to disqualify a developer from holding the honored title of “Indie.” This list can be as innumerable of the stars. It is rare that a definition is solely based on what qualifies a developer, but instead focuses on what limitations a developer must embrace. Some of these restrictions include items such as the following:
• Big publisher financial support
• Budgets that are too big
• Financing from investors
• Too much industry experience
• Publishing on platforms other than PC or Mac (no consoles)
• Publishing on any platform or with any web site that has restrictions or requirements
• Having worked with publishers - ever
• Previous Indie development success
• Schedules that are considered too long for the development of a single game
• Too large of a team
• Use of office space for development instead of a basement
• Use of commercial software or big commercial game engines
• Telling a story in a game
• Visuals that are too high-end and pretty
• Use of 3D
• Making a game that is mainstream and commercially viable (No first-person shooters)
• Desire for financial success
• Lack of distain for authority and publishers
• Not high enough quality
Of course this is just a small sampling of disqualifiers. The amounts on some of these items also can vary greatly. For example, on the budget issue, some developers go so far as to say that you shouldn’t spend any actual money--everything should be done with free, volunteered labor--while others might place the budget cap at $1 million.
Some of these restrictions seem very logical and fair and some seem totally ridiculous. But look closely. Can you see how each item actually reveals the self perceived flaw or weakness of the developer who is using these criteria as a means of disqualification of other developers? For example, the developer who excludes developers who use too large of a team may actually wish he had a bigger team or at lest think he could make a better game with a bigger team. Take thought before you next choose to cry out in protest--you may be inadvertently exposing your innermost insecurities to the world.
There are some developers who feel confident enough to include other developers with larger teams and lots more cash than themselves in the sacred Indie circle. These individuals simply believe that these factors don’t actually provide as strong of an advantage as other attributes often found in Indie developers. With creative freedom and a willingness to take risks, they can make amazing games that aren’t dependant on big teams or big budgets.
This definition doesn’t answer the question of who should be granted the privilege of entering an Indie game development contest. However, it forces me to think harder about my own evaluation of who I consider to be an Indie developer. The next time I try and make this distinction, I should ask myself the question, “Would my opinion change if I was just like them?”